For our Closing the Gap activities, we focused on data which would impact our larger objective of raising graduation rates. Our long term goal is to raise our rate to be more in line with neighboring suburbs, from 83.6% to 86%. Using freshman and sophomore groups would not have an immediate impact, but would support our building goal of 90% graduation rate by 2020.
Research supports that students who earn at least five credits during their freshman year with no more than one semester F are on track to graduate. Being on track at the end of freshman year increases their rate of graduation by about three times over students who are not at that threshold. Failures early on in high school make the goal of graduation much harder to achieve, so we decided that we would begin to intervene at two levels. We would target sophomores who had earned only 8 credits by the end of first semester, which meant that they were at risk (one credit behind their peers) for not graduating on time. We selected them because they had experienced failure in their freshman year, but were not hopelessly off track. We would also target freshman who had missed 20 or more days in the first semester, as they were at risk for multiple failures. Research shows that 9th grade attendance is a better predictor of on time graduation than test scores.
For freshmen, we looked at our school wide attendance data to determine how many students met the criteria of 20 absences or more. As a result, 22 students received targeted interventions from their assigned Counselor and Dean. Our school wide attendance procedures include automated phone calls home for absences when no parent contact is made (both single period and all day), letters detailing the mandatory attendance laws for students under 16, and a truancy check in. We selected interventions by using best practice and research, including additional contacts by Counselors, Deans, and /or Social Workers who made contact with parents via phone calls,meetings, and home visits, and outplacement in a truancy program. ASCA mindsets and behaviors (B-SMS 2) are used to focus the attendance interventions and ensure best practice. First semester, these 22 students missed a combined total of 673.5 days, averaging 30 days each. After our targeted interventions second semester, the combined total was 496 days, averaging 22.5 days. At first glance, this looks successful, but the reality is that several students on this list left our district through moving or outplacement; the decrease appears to be related to attrition rather than intervention.
We targeted sophomores with the intention of scaffolding students who were right on the edge of either being on track or falling further behind, with the rationale being that with extra supports and increased contact, we could impact their success. We also wanted to focus in on building these students academic self-discipline (B-SMS 2) to help support future success. 41 sophomores met the criteria of having eight credits. We decided we would try to cut that number by approximately 50%, or down to 20 students. Interventions were delivered by the Dean, Counselor, and/or Social Worker/Psychologist as assigned to each student, and included regular meeting check-ins, tutoring, and additional supports on a case by case basis. By the end of the school year, 21 of the 41 students had met the goal of achieving junior status. School attendance is a factor that we did not address for this group but it should be, as it impacted who was successful in achieving the goal.
Our data suggests that our interventions had varying levels of success. For our freshman attendance goal, the results appear to indicate that we had little impact on individual student absenteeism, however, given what research shows about the link between attendance and graduation rates, best practice advocates that we address interventions geared toward keeping freshman students on track. We will need to re-evaluate our interventions to make them more effective or decide to deliver them earlier in the school year, or both. For our sophomores, our work appears to have been more successful and indicates that we can further strengthen the effect of our efforts by adding an additional component to monitor and address the attendance of this group as well.